Exploring the world of Product Design with TikTok’s Marisa Chentakul
By Aratrika Rath for Products by Women
Growing up Marisa watched her mom build a fashion label from scratch, which was pivotal in developing her skills in design. As a direct influence of seeing her mother work in the design world, Marisa found herself naturally gravitating towards fashion design in college. In her senior show thesis, she observed her uneasiness about the fashion design process and how it was more about the expression rather than the users. Simply put, it was aesthetics over utility, and this sparked her interest in human-centered design.
When she is not creating an amazing design experience at TikTok, she can be found on a paddleboard at the nearest lake or beach. She also runs Workology, an ergonomic lifestyle brand, and Mesh Times, a curated design merch store.
Mesh was born during the time she was trying to familiarize herself with product design and ended up starting a Kickstarter by the same name. With the help of $12,000 in crowdfunding, Mesh is a modular piece of fabric to allow people to invent their own fashion items and not just a regular fashion artifact.
Products by Women caught up with her to understand the evolving perspective on Product Design and the skills needed to break into the field.
What does it mean to create modern digital products?
It is the entire engagement someone has with a product, typically a website, mobile app, or kiosk. the process of helping end-users accomplish their goals efficiently while meeting business objectives under technical constraints. As well as the process of identifying a market opportunity, clearly defining the problem, developing a proper solution for that problem, and validating the solution with real users.
When an experience is good, people will stay around. An intuitive digital experience will almost feel invisible, when a user sees it, they know exactly what to do. Creating a modern digital product lets people focus on the task they have without needing to stop to think about it.
What does collaboration look like for a Product Designer?
The ability to empathize and understand the motivation of those you work with is important. Engineers, PMs, and other designers all come with their needs and goals.
Most organizations are structured in a way that designers work closely with Product Managers, Engineers, User Researchers, Content Writers. With Product Managers, designers should always be in the loop of these constant changes and priority shifting, designers need to be adaptive to those changes, and ready to respond accordingly if needed.
With Engineers, you want to make sure that you understand the technical constraints and any resources limitation. I’ve found that providing close attention to interaction design and thinking ahead for edge cases is important. Bring them in as early as you can to ask for the feasibility of things.
With User Researchers, there’s a lot of crossover between research and design. Designers and researchers will collaborate on research plans and discussion guides. The best collaboration is when both parties discuss how to turn insights from usability or contextual research into design changes.
Can you share a little about your daily work like at TikTok?
Every day at TikTok, I collaborate very closely with PMs, Engineers, UX writers, and Data people on my team. For most projects I work on, I would create end-to-end user flows and provide multiple design solutions based on user needs, business goals, and technical constraints to get buy-ins from different stakeholders.
I typically start my morning by checking in with the team and ensure I’m documenting any design changes that came up. Documentation is surprisingly a huge part of the job, it’s important to make sure everyone on the team is aligned with the updates. Every 2 weeks, we also run design critiques where designers on the team regularly give and receive feedback. Every quarter, I would have to present key learnings within the team and larger XFN groups as well
One of my favorite things about working at TikTok is being surrounded by so many talented teammates. I’ve been learning from them more than I did back in design school! Every Monday during our stand-up, we each would share our favorite TikTok that we watched over the weekend. Most of the team is based in LA and our off-site ranges from beach picnics to online circus experience.
It’s the most exciting time to be at Tiktok, the platform is growing like crazy and it’s been the most downloaded app for the 4th month in a row. It’s been super fun and inspiring to be in a hyper-growth company like this. I’m currently working on multiple verticals from login & onboarding experience to the new AR initiatives.
How is Product Design different than UX design?
Most companies use these 2 terms interchangeably but the main difference between the two is:
- Product Designers are more responsible for looking at the overall function and working process of the product. Their main focus is the users, business goals, and project management
- UX Designers are more responsible for the interaction design, prototyping, interface, and ensuring the usability is up to standard in order to create the most user-friendly experience
How do you align product design with business needs?
As designers, we should be aware of the business goals and how the company makes money. We need to figure out what levers move the needle for our company and make sure the design decision is aligned to those levers.
The values of the business should shine through your design. One of the most challenging parts is to figure out how to translate business needs into a seamless and intuitive user experience for your customers. One way to figure out is to carry out interviews to identify the pain points, good points, and the impact of each on the business.
Also, pull together other stakeholders from different departments to gather feedback. Incorporate personas and storyboards to present the ideal experience before you create any wireframes. Together with your PM, talk about trade-offs, technical constraints, and cost-to-benefit ratios for each design decision.
Your favorite project?
I have two actually!
Design Picnic Podcast!
With another friend of mine, we decided to start a podcast because of the rapid startup growth in Thailand, the demand for designers is getting higher but there is a very limited resource for Human-Centered Design in Thai.
Wanting to give back and pay it forward to the Thai community, my friend and I started Design Picnic to cultivate a design community in Thailand. We took this opportunity to grow our design network and learn from the talented designers that we collaborated with.
During the beginning of the pandemic, my friend and I worked together on a virtual studying tool to help students focus, motivate, and reconnect during the “zoom university” time. The result was very rewarding and we were able to reach students from every corner of the world. I led the growth team and we were able to grow our social media to almost 200K in less than 6 months as well as our viral community on Discord.
What advice do you have for people interested in the field of Product Design?
Ask yourself if Product Design is right for you. Connect to Product Designers who came from a similar industry as you. When I was transitioning, I connected with as many Fashion Designers turned Product Designers that I could find on Twitter and Linkedin. Ask them what are some transferrable skills that you can carry over from your current industry and what skills you should try to hone in on.
Study and observe case studies from companies and designers' portfolios that you admired. Attend free virtual Product Design conferences and find yourself a mentor who can guide you and provide frequent check-ins to hold yourself accountable. https://adplist.org/ is a great place.
Lastly, start building your portfolio early. You can redesign existing projects, reach out to non-profits or charities, reach out to family and friends, or create your own faux client project.
Most importantly, trust the process, while you aren’t exactly where you imagined being, you’re working your way to getting there. Focus on the value you’re adding, only worry about the things you can control, practice gratitude, and visualize success.
Any resource for people who want to get started with Product Design as a discipline?
Some of the resources that have helped me evolve and learn are:
Learning from best practices:
Any parting words to readers out there trying to pivot into a design career?
Remember that there are no magic wands when changing careers, but trusting the process helps.
Marisa is a Product Designer at Tiktok in Los Angeles. Previously she led design at a startup through an acquisition. Outside of her 9–5, you can find her creating short-form content about design, tech, and lifestyle on Instagram and Tiktok.
Join us virtually on 1st October where Marisa speaks about how to leverage content creation to pave your career path.
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